Nico Law's debut with the Towson football team took more than 15 months and was 900 miles in the making.
After transferring from the Iowa in June 2014, sitting out last year, and overcoming a bout of mononucleosis last month, the senior free safety made his first career start in the Tigers' season-opening 28-20 loss at East Carolina on Saturday.
For someone who had played against Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl and LSU in the 2013 Outback Bowl, Law admitted that he had butterflies before taking the field against the Pirates.
"I've played football my whole high school career and then the majority of college and then to stop playing football, it's very depressing," said the 22-year-old Law, a Clinton, Md., resident and Bishop McNamara graduate. "It's hard to overcome that, but once you get back into it, you look at it as a blessing, and I feel very thankful for the opportunity."
Law made a favorable impression in his first appearance for Towson, which plays host to Saint Francis on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Johnny Unitas Stadium. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound safety led the defense in tackles with 10 and registered one quarterback hurry. It was a productive outing, but it didn't help the team avoid a loss, Law noted.
"I think I had a pretty decent performance, but we didn't get the W," he said. "That's all that matters."
Law's path to the Tigers was a circuitous one. He spent his first three years at Iowa, playing in every game and recording 44 tackles.
But on June 7, 2014, Law was arrested for fighting with another man in Iowa City. After entering a guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge and paying a fine, he announced four days later that he was leaving the Hawkeyes program.
Law, who said moving from Prince George's County to the Midwest was "a huge culture shock," insisted he's not someone who seeks trouble.
"Stuff happens," he said. "You just live and learn and just don't make the same mistakes twice."
Recruited by several schools, Law elected to enroll at Towson. Coach Rob Ambrose sat down with Law and made sure he understood what the coaches expected from him.
"I said, 'If there's anything that gives me doubt at all, then forget it,'" Ambrose said. "He's been a model citizen. He's not a good teammate, he's a great teammate. He's not a good person, he's a great person. For a lot of kids, it takes time to grow and maybe being a couple thousand miles away might change your mentality about a lot of things depending on who you're hanging out with. But he's been a guy that the younger kids look up to with his work ethic and how he handles himself on and off the field."
Ambrose said he also relied on the advice of Bishop McNamara coach Keith Goganious, who began coaching the Mustangs after Law had already left for Iowa.
"My recommendation to Coach Ambrose was based on the young man I met working out here and focused on getting his college career as a student-athlete back on track," Goganious said in an email. "He has been nothing but very supportive of our program and willing to advise our players of how to handle yourself as a student-athlete. We here at BMHS are very excited for Nico and the opportunity he has at Towson to finish his college career on a high note."
Academic issues forced Law to sit out last season. Because he wasn't a member of the football program, Law had to work out and monitor his diet on his own and even worked a couple jobs.
When the Tigers returned for spring practices, Law was one of the best players on the field, according to Ambrose. But in the middle of July, Law contracted mono and was banned from physical contact for a minimum four weeks.
Safeties coach Joe Tricario said the illness affected Law's preparation.
"He's still getting used to the defense, and that part is critical to him," said Tricario, who is also the special teams coordinator. "And there's the game speed and the reps. He took a considerable amount of reps in the game the other night and to his credit, he stood in there and did as well as he could. But I don't think he was in the shape the way he could have been if he had the whole preseason."
Law fared decently on Saturday against East Carolina, but he said there's room for improvement.
"I just need to address finishing," he said. "Not finishing, but making those big plays. You only get so many big plays in a game, and you've got to seize the opportunity."
Law joins senior strong safety Donnell Lewis and redshirt sophomore cornerback Alfonso Augustine to form three-fourths of a veteran defensive backfield. Pairing Law with Lewis, a second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection in 2014 who was tied for second in tackles with 85, gives Towson arguably two of the top safeties in the conference, and Tricario is excited about their potential.
"I think it's fantastic," he said. "We've got a little bit of salt and pepper there. One guy can pepper you and the other guy is straight salt. He'll come in and whack you if it's lined up in front of him, and Donnell's a really good cover guy and he throws his body around. So we've got a great mix."
SAINT FRANCIS (1-0) @ TOWSON (0-1)
When: Tonight, 6 p.m.
Site: Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson
Audio: CBS Sports Radio 1300 AM, TowsonTigers.com
Series: Towson leads, 3-0
What's at stake: Hoping to be buoyed by a large, partisan crowd that includes emergency personnel taking advantage of First Responders Appreciation Night (four free tickets for First Responders, $9.11 price for everyone else), the Tigers will take aim at winning the 10th home opener of their last 11. Towson is trying to avoid its second 0-2 start in as many years and slogged through a 2-4 record at home in 2014. Although the team dropped its season opener, 28-20, at Football Bowl Subdivision's East Carolina last Saturday, the Tigers welcome an opponent that they have never lost to in three meetings, including a 46-17 shellacking on Sept. 22, 2012. The Red Flash pummeled Georgetown, 48-20, on Saturday, marking their first victory to open a season since 2006. But Saint Francis has not won its first two games of the year since 1975 and went just 2-4 on the road last season.
Key matchup: Red Flash senior tailback Khairi Dickson, who ranked fifth in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing in 2014 with 1,708 yards, recorded 129 yards and three touchdowns against Georgetown. But Dickson was outpaced by teammate and sophomore Marcus Bagley, who rushed for 147 yards. That duo presents a challenge for a Towson run defense that surrendered 154 yards and four scores to Pirates senior running back Chris Hairston last week. The unit could get a boost from the return of redshirt senior defensive tackle Jon Desir (swollen left knee) to the starting lineup.
Player to watch: Tigers redshirt senior quarterback Connor Frazier threw for a career-high 221 yards and connected with redshirt senior wide receiver Brian Dowling for a 30-yard touchdown strike in the first quarter at East Carolina. Frazier, who also rushed for 43 yards and a score, must be wary of Saint Francis sophomore strong safety Delondo Boyd, who intercepted two Georgetown passes and returned one 35 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.